SolarChargedDriving.Com recently interviewed environmentalist and author Bill McKibben on his views about electric cars, the synergy between renewable energy and electric cars, and, more generally, on climate change, about which McKibben has written widely.
McKibben’s newest book, Eaarth, which we recently reviewed, focuses on global warming, both on the nature of the problem and on ways to address it. McKibben is also founder of 350.org, a global grassroots organization devoted to raising consciousness about climate change.
Below is our interview with McKibben.
350.org 350.org is an international campaign to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis.
It focuses on the number 350—as in parts per million CO2. If the world can’t get below that, scientists say, the damage the world is already seeing from global warming will continue and accelerate.
350.org works hard to organize in a new way—everywhere at once. For example, in Oct. 2010, 350.org organized a ‘global work party’ all over the world, with more than 7,000 events in 187 countries.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: It seems like a significant portion of ‘greenies’ associate electric cars with coal plant smokestacks. Yet 50 percent of the electric grid in the U.S. is powered by something other than coal and several states in the American Northwest have electric grids that are almost entirely powered by hyrdo-electric energy. What is your take on the environmental movement’s views toward electric cars: Are ‘greenies’ open to/ready for electric cars? Why, or why not?
McKibben: I think there’s probably a lot of excitement about them, bounded only by two things. One is the coal issue you describe—there are places where they may generate near as much carbon as gas. The other is the sense that cars do a lot of other damage to the environment, like taking up space with concrete, and it would be nice that as we dealt with global warming we took some steps in the direction of things like public transit too.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: What’s your personal take on electric vehicles?
McKibben: They seem much better to me than conventional iC cars, and if you can’t use a bike or a bus, then a very good thing. My guess is that the hybrid electrics may prove to be more in tune with American driving habits, but we’ll see—the Leaf v. Volt stats will be interesting.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: What’s your view on the renewable energy + electric vehicle synergy?
McKibben: The way to go. I’ll look forward to hooking up my PHEV to the solar panels on my roof
SolarChargedDriving.Com: What do you drive?
McKibben: The very first Honda Civic hybrid sold in the state of Vermont, still going strong
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Would you consider buying an electric vehicle?
McKibben: Sure—maybe most likely a plug-in hybrid because most days I don’t drive at all, but when I do it tends to be rural distances
SolarChargedDriving.Com: You have solar PV on your home. How long have you had solar and how large a system do you have?
McKibben: I’ve got 25 panels, I think, plus a solar hot water system. I’ve had them for about a decade.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Why do you think such a low percentage of Americans have solar on their home – and what will it take to change this?
McKibben: My guess is that smart financing schemes will be the most useful thing to push the numbers up. The capital cost is high enough to discourage people—but then, the capital cost of most big purchases would discourage us, which is why we’ve figured out financing.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Would you consider solar-charging an electric vehicle yourself?
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Why do think it is that so few people know about, much less think about, running their cars on sun? What do you think it will to take to change this?
McKibben: The most efficient way would be to make carbon fuels pay the price for the damage they do to the atmosphere. At the moment they get a free ride so they seem cheap.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Some contend that just as fossil fuels are “green” energy forms such as solar and wind are also environmentally destructive. Is there an ideal, clean, non-environmentally destructive way to meet humanity’s energy needs?
McKibben: There doesn’t seem to be a completely free lunch here. I fear that for the time being the greatest problem we face, by far, is climate change, and so some other bad things are going to get triaged a little—I hope not for long.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: What is the quickest and most effective way for humanity to slow, and possibly turn back, global warming?
McKibben: Ramp up the price of carbon based fuel. Right now Exxon gets to use the atmosphere as an open sewer into which to dump its waste for free. That’s a sweet deal, and we should cut it off.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: The hard data point to the reality of global warming, yet millions reject that global warming is real and, especially, the idea that humans are playing a role in causing it. How important is it that we change these peoples’ views and, assuming it is important, how do we do this?
McKibben: I think the most important thing we can do is organize the millions who do understand there’s a problem. That’s what we do at 350.org—the first big grassroots global climate campaign. Come join in—we’re building a movement. I’m not sure we’re going to get it done in time, but we’re definitely putting up a fight.
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Some say the environmental movement has put nearly all of its eggs in the global warming basket while paying less attention to other environmental issues. For instance, automobiles spew not only CO2 into the atmosphere, but contribute greatly to local and regional air pollution, pumping out nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and dangerous particulate pollution. Do you think the environmental movement has become too focused on CO2?
McKibben: As I said above, it’s led us to neglect some other things. But if we don’t get global warming under control, everything else is moot. So, I think in the end it makes sense. And in any event, getting rid of fossil fuel will help almost every other problem we face
SolarChargedDriving.Com: Thank you so much for agreeing to do a Q&A with SolarChargedDriving.Com, would you like to add anything?
McKibben: Thanks to everyone out there who is building the clean energy future. Just remember that we need not just personal engagement but political—join in via 350.org if it’s not too wonky for you
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